Why fatherhood means never having to buy an Armani suit

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The Independent Culture
IT USED to be easy to understand clothes and what they meant. There were those who wore nylon shirts and V-necked jumpers that their mums had bought; the rest of us wore bell-bottom jeans, Oxford bags, greatcoats, platforms, scoop-necked T-shirts, lurid jumpers with stars and stripes on them. As long as the clothes had been purchased from somewhere obviously fashionable - Kensington Market, say, or Harry Fenton (and I swear to you that in 1973, in my town, Harry Fenton was the place to be on a Saturday), or the mail-order section in the back of Melody Maker - you couldn't go wrong. The only places to avoid, really, were Marks and Sparks, Tesco, department stores and the shop where you bought your school uniform.

Now, though, all is chaos. Harry Fenton no longer seems to be the cultural force he once was; the clothes in Marks and Sparks seem to be exactly the same as the clothes everywhere else; these days, you probably can't even order loon pants from the back of Melody Maker. I don't know where I am any more, and I don't even know where I want to be.

I sometimes see stuff about clothes in newspapers and magazines, but I don't really understand it; fashion writing seems to work in a different way from film writing or the literary pages. Film reviews, for me, at any rate, work like this: I read a film review, and if it's positive, then I may well go to see the film.

This is why so many people have seen The Piano, for example. But fashion writing . . . Are we supposed to buy these clothes, or what? These people, Karl Lagerfeld, and Armani, and Versace, and Nicole Farhi, and Ally Capellino, and Comme des Garcons (although I suspect that Comme might not be a person at all), and Jean-Paul Gaultier, are they supposed to mean something to me? Do they mean anything to you? And if they mean nothing to any of us, why do we have to read about them in newspapers and magazines every day?

Those more sympathetic to the fashion industry have explained patiently to me that, even though I might not wish to purchase any of Karl's designs at the moment, they will influence my wardrobe in a couple of years' time.

I dispute this. At the moment I am wearing a pair of Levis and a black crew-neck jumper (and to anyone reading this and thinking, 'I saw him that day' - there are more of us than you might think); and though most designers possess an admirable and enviable cheek - these are the people who expect us to pay several hundred pounds for a cardigan, after all - none of them has gone so far as to claim credit for jeans and sweaters. I am likely to be wearing jeans and sweaters in 1996 (frankly speaking, I am likely to be wearing the same jeans and sweater in 1996), so, perhaps understandably, I have not been reading the fashion pages of this or any other newspaper with much assiduousness.

There are several reasons why I have no interest in what Thierry and Karl and Comme and the rest of the gang have been up to recently. First, there is the cost: my rule of thumb is that one should never pay a three-figure sum for anything one might wear in one's own living room. Coats and suits have to cost more than pounds 99.99; but knitwear, trousers, shoes and shirts . . . forget it. Second, there is the sheer absurdity of the garments: I am, regrettably, never invited to places where turbans or leather sailor suits are de rigueur although I haven't given up all hope.

And most importantly, there is my own inadequacy: even if I spent a fortune on a new jacket, nobody would notice. What is the point of putting an Ally Capellino jacket over a Mister Byrite torso? I have very little hair, and I'm a few pounds overweight, and I have short stubby legs; I'm more your clothes donkey than your clothes horse. An Armani suit would not transform me into somebody elegant and svelte and Italianate. Rather, I would transform it into something ill-fitting and badly cut and Finsbury Parkish (although if you're out there, Giorgio, I wouldn't say no if you wanted to prove me wrong, on a sort of free sample basis.)

See, if I bought an Armani suit then I'd have to pass my driving test, because I couldn't really wear it on the bus; and I'd have to get a different job, one which allowed me to intimidate people at meetings, rather than one which allows me to watch Home and Away while my son is sick on my shoulder; and I'd have to find smart new friends, people who would presume that I was wearing an Armani suit, rather than something I'd pinched from my father and taken to the dry cleaner's for alteration, and maybe I'd need a new wife, because the one I have now has a similar lack of interest in haute couture . . . I'm just not sure I'm ready for that kind of upheaval.

One can see how designer clothes happen: you go to school, and you've got no money, and your shopping revolves around sweets and comics, and then you go to college, and you've got no money, and then it's pub and second-hand record shop, and then you get a job, and you've got no money, and it's flats and Pizza Express.

And then, suddenly, you get a different job, and you're 30, and sweets, comics, pizzas and CDs no longer take care of your income, and you've got to find something else, quick, something grown-up and expensive, and you walk into this menswear shop and bang] There's seven hundred quid gone and you weren't even trying.

But what is the use of one smart jacket and a designer sweater if, tomorrow, you have to go back to wearing the Marks and Spencer polo neck you got for Christmas? So you go back the following month and then you're trapped in this vicious cycle of dependency, but the most important thing is that you're skint, like everybody else, and you no longer have more money than sense, but sense and money in equal amounts. Designer clothes are God's way of telling you that it's time to have a baby: babies are as expensive as an Armani suit, but nobody thinks you're a despicable human being for having one.-